By this time of year most of us have given thought to what we’d like to accomplish. If you’re the parent of a recently blended family, I’m willing to bet that strengthening your relationships with your spouse and children are on that list — and probably near the top of intentions.

Never feel ashamed about that. Marriage and parenting are some of the biggest challenges people face, and when you add in the complication of combining two separate families, it’s rarely a perfect situation. No matter how much you and your spouse may love each other, and no matter how much love you’ve developed for each other’s children, conflicts are inevitable. Fortunately, you can take some steps may reduce your short-term stress while enhancing long-term success.

Make your marriage stronger. You may be thinking about what it takes to grow your relationship with your spouse’s children, but the single best thing you can do to accomplish that is to build the strongest marriage you can. Both sets of children will take their cues from how the two of you relate to one another, how effectively you communicate, and how well you handle conflicts. Not only will a stronger marriage strengthen your relationship with them, it will help them develop their own healthy relationships when they become adults. (And if kids sense a gap between you, they’ll exploit it to their advantage — not because they’re manipulative, but because they’re kids.)

Work with your exes. If you’re sharing custody, be as cooperative and collaborative as possible. Make sure everyone knows the plan for visitations and agree to basic rules about things like privileges and curfews. If there disputes or issues, resolve them away from the kids — not by arguing in front of them. Respect each other’s visitation rights by doing things like showing up on time or providing plenty of advance notice when changes are needed. Special situations and unexpected events do come up, and if you’re understanding about them, others will be, too. And remember that sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and smile, even when you don’t feel like it.

Maintain connections. When you’re focused on creating a new relationship, it’s easy to lose touch with friends and relatives. Make an effort to stay in contact and spend time with the people who were part of your life before your remarriage. Your kids may miss them, too. Your marriage can create an opportunity to expand your circle of friends, not shrink it.

Respect and create traditions. Family traditions are important to kids. If Christmas morning meant a silly breakfast in the living room, be sure to do it. If winter break from school always included a hike at a state park, hike away. And as you keep those traditions, make an effort to create new ones together. Find something the kids want to do and make it a part of your family’s new lives together.

Be realistic. Perfectly blended families happen on TV and nowhere else. Everyone is dealing with new feelings and mourning the loss of what went before. Building strong relationships will probably take many months — maybe even years. Don’t try to force the kids to like each other or do things together. Be patient and give everyone some time and the benefit of the doubt.

Need help?If things aren’t going well or you’re overwhelmed by all the changes, it may be beneficial to talk with a professional counselor. While we can’t magically “fix” everything, our counselors have worked with other families and can suggest strategies you can use to move things to better places while preserving your own mental well-being. Call us today to set a time to talk.

Jennifer Strege specializes in marriage and family counseling, with a particular focus on issues associated with blended families. She will be leading a marriage workshop in February. For more information, click this link